China is set to announce sizeable new orders for Boeing 777-200, 757-200 and 737-700/800 passenger aircraft during the state visit to the USA in October of the country's president, Jiang Zemin.

Boeing is hoping that Jiang's trip will finally give the green light to a large number of pending deals with Chinese airlines, approval for which has been put on hold by Beijing because of political and trade differences with Washington over the last 18 months.

During this period, the US manufacturer has received fresh orders for only 12 new aircraft, nine of which were ordered at the start of the year. Over the same time, Airbus has stolen a lead with two orders from China Aviation Supplies (CASC) for 40 A320s and 20 A321s, worth $3 billion.

Boeing has a backlog of pending deals in place for up to 50 aircraft from seven mainly smaller and provincial Chinese carriers already operating Boeing equipment. Air China and China Southwest Airlines have requirements for a similar number of aircraft to re-equip their narrowbody fleets.

China is unlikely to commit to such a large number of aircraft at one time and will seek to maximise its political leverage in Washington by breaking up the order into smaller batch purchases over an extended period, say observers. The number of airliners to be ordered in October is thought to be in the region of 30-50.

Outstanding approval requests cover ten 737-700s each for China Xinhua Airlines and Xiamen Airlines, ten 757-200s for China Xinjiang Airlines, three 767-300s, four 737-400s and three 737-800s for Hainan Airlines, four 737-700s for China Yunnan Airlines and two more 737s for Zhongyuan Airlines.

It is anticipated that October's order will include a further five 777-200IGWs for Air China, following an order for an initial five placed during US Vice President Al Gore's visit to China earlier in the year. The flag carrier also has a need for some 20 new narrowbodies to replace its 737-300s.

A final type selection has still to be made, with the 737-800 and A321 in contention. Sources close to Air China suggest that the creation of a separate Airbus flight-operations department within the airline could favour the A321.

CASC is expected to decide within the next month on the allocation of the five remaining A320s and 20 A321s ordered in May.

Source: Flight International